A couple of recent news reports highlight potential issues surrounding good Samaritins helping injured animals:
- A person that tried to help a cat that had been hit by a car was bitten. It turned out the cat had rabies, so the person would have required post-exposure treatment.
- A veterinarian was struck by another vehicle and killed while trying to help a neighbour’s dog that had been hit by a car.
These two incidents highlight some of the problems that can occur when people try to help injured animals. Wanting to help an injured animal is an instinctive behaviour for many people. I know, I’m the same way – but you have to look after yourself as well. No matter how much you want to help the animal, you have to make sure you don’t put yourself at risk of injury or infection.
The key point is to think before you act.
- Can you actually do anything useful? Are you better off calling animal control or someone else? In most situations, you may be better off getting other help. If you don’t actually know how to help the animal, having contact with it just puts you at risk. Injured or frightened animals are more likely to bite. If you are bitten or otherwise exposed to the animal, you need to be concerned about rabies or other infectious diseases.
- Can you do something safely? Despite your best intentions, if the animal is in the middle of a busy highway or in a situation where traffic can’t see you (e.g. dark, bad weather, blind corner), don’t put yourself at risk. You may think that you can be careful but odds are reasonable once you get to the animal, you are going to focus on it, not traffic.
- Is the animal even alive? This may take a little effort to determine.
- How is the animal acting? Does it look aggressive or fearful? These things might lead to an increased risk of biting. Is it acting normally? The hard part is assessing injured animals. An animal might be acting abnormally because it’s injured. It’s also possible, however, that it’s acting strange because it has rabies. It may have been hit by a car because it has rabies, or it may not have been hit at all and just looks like it’s been injured because it has severe neurological disease.
If you are bitten by an injured animal, you need to make sure rabies is considered. If the animal survives, it needs to be observed for 10 days to make sure it doesn’t develop signs of rabies. If it dies, it needs to be tested. Once you’ve made the commitment to get involved, you need to follow through.
I’m not trying to dissuade anyone from helping out. You just need to understand what you can do to help and what risks might be present. In most situations, you’re probably better off trying to get proper help and trying to prevent the animal from being injured again. Calling animal control, sending someone to a nearby house to identify the owner and trying to make sure other drivers don’t hit the animal again may be the best you can do, for the animal and for you.